Although these things get tricky once time passes, it seems certain that Chipper Jones will end up in the Baseball Hall of Fame after he retires. Just when he is going to retire, or if he should retire, are open-ended questions as the 2012 season approaches. The Atlanta Braves third baseman has coped with a number of slowing-him-down injuries in recent years and he will turn 40 three weeks into the season, but Jones and Braves fans are hoping there is one more fine performance ready to burst free of his aging body.
Jones knows he is nearing the end of his Major League career, and there would be nothing better than to wrap it up with a World Series title. The Braves mirrored the Red Sox September collapse last year, but have a more seasoned, solid lineup than in 2011, especially if Jones is part of it. So they should be in the playoffs and could be a go-all-the-way threat. Last year, Jones was there and not there, hobbling along on a bad knee, recovering from surgery. He stroked 18 home runs, drove in 70, and batted .275 in 126 games. Not bad for an old guy.
At his best during his 18-year career Jones was way better than “not bad.” His lifetime average is .304. He has 454 home runs and 1,561 RBIs. He has been an All-Star seven times and won a Most Valuable Player award. Although he has barely hit within 100 points of it since, Jones did win the National League batting crown with a .364 average as recently as 2008. If healthy, Jones can still be a dangerous dude at the plate and that’s what the Braves need from him in 2012.
Jones gave interviews early in spring training where it became apparent reading along that he is aware this could be his swan song. His three-year contract is up at the end of the year (although there is an option to play if he appears in 123 games this season). Jones has spent his entire career with the Braves and the team’s location in the NL means he can’t extend his playing days with the club as a designated hitter. He was 21 in 1993 when he made his Major League debut for the Braves and it is difficult to imagine him leaving Atlanta for a year to suit up in the American League as a grande finale. Not that stranger baseball moves haven’t taken place, but Jones will likely stay with the Braves till the end.
Jones is the last man standing from the Braves’ recent long run of success overseen by retired manager Bobby Cox and spearheaded by pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. They were all Braves stars and they didn’t all leave the Braves with rose petals being strewn at their feet. Looking at his lifetime statistics, unless Jones really comes through with that monster year, he won’t play next year and he is going to fall just a little bit shy of edging into some of the sport’s most prestigious clubs.
He probably won’t hit 500 home runs and he probably won’t clout the 385 more hits he needs to leap from 2,615 to 3,000. The 500 and 3,000 clubs are exclusive, but whatever he is able to accomplish on the field this season, Chipper Jones will retire with numbers worthy of Hall of Fame membership.